2017 Kia Soul ! Turbo Review - Good Box With a Bad 'Box

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2017 Kia Soul !

1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four, DOHC (201 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 195 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm)
Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
26 city / 31 highway / 28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
24.3 (As tested, MPG)
Base Price: $23,500 (U.S) / $27,874 (Canada)
As Tested: $23,620 (U.S) / $27,874 (Canada)
Prices include $850 freight charge in U.S. and $1,879 delivery, destination and A/C tax in Canada, and because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

Some years ago, product planners at Nissan, Honda, and Kia each decided to cut stylists out of the design process for a new car line and hand everything over to engineers. Those engineers, looking for the most practical and efficient shape to haul maximum cargo – fleshy or otherwise – each decided to use a cube for inspiration. Nissan didn’t stray far even for a name.

Each of those boxes was marketed toward the youth of the day – when they came out, I was part of that target demographic. Problem was, the kids didn’t have money to spend on a new car. That’s why many Elements, Cubes, and Souls tend to be driven by older, somewhat more affluent folks who appreciate the practicality, and can also afford it.

Well, I’m now approaching that second demographic. My forties are within sight. Is the 2017 Kia Soul right for me? In other words, is an old soul right for a new Soul?

Let’s get the big complaint out of the way: I am not impressed with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in this top-spec Soul, and it’s the only transmission offered with the turbocharged engine. Off the line, the DCT will lag before engaging a gear at times, at which point the ratio catches with a jerk. It doesn’t happen every time, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to predict it, but when there is a half-second or so delay from throttle application to forward movement, driving can be infuriating.

Beyond the recalcitrant transmission, I enjoyed driving the Soul. While it’s obviously a taller, heavier vehicle than a proper hot hatch, it’s still a short-wheelbase compact that’s tossable in the corners. When driving spiritedly, the car never felt top-heavy. 201 horsepower combined with 195 lb-ft of just-off-idle torque helps pull the hatch out of the corner with verve. The steering is direct, but somewhat numb to road imperfections.

That short wheelbase does hinder the Soul’s ride a bit – combined with the eighteen-inch wheels, the drive on expansion-jointed roads gets choppy and noisy. I wonder if the 17 inch wheels (with appropriately taller sidewalls) from lesser Souls might fit on the !.

As an aside, I rather dislike the use of punctuation for the trim level – and neither does my word processing software. Every instance whene I list “!” causes lights and flashes and minor explosions within my PC and brain alike. Even calling the trim “Exclaim” won’t work – it makes me conflate the Hyundai Excel with the Plymouth Acclaim, two cars I don’t recall fondly. Without looking it up online, consumers don’t know that the ! is the Turbo model, while the + model is the midrange box. It’s not like there are badges on the tailgate listing the trim.

Kia, please reconsider the punctuation, or else start using some seriously funky punctuation like an interrobang or a tilde.

Yeah, I called the Soul an unstyled box. While there is obviously more to it than that, it’s hard to do much with slab sides. The fenders do have a bit of flare to them, while the 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels fitted to this Turbo add some visual interest. You can’t forget the red stripe that distinguishes the ! from more pedestrian Souls, either – a red stripe means fast, don’t you know? The signature tiger nose grille isn’t even a grille on the Soul – it’s just a bit of shiny dark plastic trimmed in chrome, where all air directed to the engine bay comes through the gaps in the big bumper.

Those slab sides do wonders in maximizing the interior space, however. For such a short-wheelbase car, I could stretch side to side comfortably, with three rear-seat occupants sitting silently without complaint for a drive – and without kicking my seatback once, which is an accomplishment for my youngest. The flat floor in the rear helps the center-seat passenger, who would typically splay their legs into the knees of their seatmates.

The front seats were likewise quite comfortable, with a combination of leather and patterned cloth on the surfaces highlighted by red stitching – again, red stitching means fast! The hatch swallowed everything I could toss in the rear, with room to spare.

Kia’s touchscreen infotainment system is nothing special, and that’s a good thing. It’s responsive to inputs, and is easy to read and control while driving either by touch or the steering wheel controls. For me, I rank Kia’s UVO system up with Chrysler’s Uconnect as the best, easiest-to-use touchscreen interface in all of automobiledom. Sound quality is equally excellent, though the big box does tend to amplify boomy road noise.

The Kia Soul ! is – other than the goofy exclamation point and the balky transmission – a choice that is easy to live with. I’d like to believe that the dual-clutch could be sorted with better shift programming, at which point I’d heartily recommend this to anyone needing plenty of interior space in an easy to park package.

[Images: © 2017 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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4 of 70 comments
  • Scott25 Scott25 on Jan 04, 2018

    To anyone complaining about the transmission, Kia has a Forte5 SX for you, same motor with a manual option with a normal car seating position. FINALLY both a review and a comments section with not one referral to the Soul as a crossover. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, unless judged solely by the seating position. Of course, that’s the reason I didn’t even consider one, it feels like a bus. On a related note, has any mainstream manufacturer made a DCT that isn’t total garbage except VW? What’s the point? A regular automatic or a CVT are good enough for 99.999% of non-manual applications. The Kia Soul has to be in the running for least offensive new vehicle purchase. Nobody from any walk of life, political inclination, or vehicular interest will bedgrudge you for driving a Soul. The only thing that would seal the deal is if it was built in North America.

    • See 1 previous
    • Bd2 Bd2 on Jan 06, 2018

      @jalop1991 Acura's been having issues with its newer transmissions - whether they be in-house or the ZF supplied 9HP. Major reason why Acura's reliability rankings have tanked.

  • Picard234 Picard234 on Jan 05, 2018

    I'm leasing one of these. Most all the comments are spot on. There seems to be no rhyme or reason when takeoff will be smooth or when it will "lag." It's a great fun little car around town, crashy and loud on the highway; I managed over 35MPG when fleeing Hurricane Irma in mostly highway driving.

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  • Varezhka And why exactly was it that Tesla decided not to coat their stainless steel bodies, again? My old steel capped Volant skis still looks clean without a rust in sight thanks to that metal vapor coating. It's not exactly a new technology.
  • GIJOOOE “Sounds” about as exciting as driving a golf cart, fake gear shifts or not. I truly hope that Dodge and the other big American car makers pull their heads out of the electric clouds and continue to offer performance cars with big horsepower internal combustion engines that require some form of multi gear transmissions and high octane fuel, even if they have to make them in relatively small quantities and market them specifically to gearheads like me. I will resist the ev future for as long as I have breath in my lungs and an excellent credit score/big bank account. People like me, who have loved fast cars for as long as I can remember, need a car that has an engine that sounds properly pissed off when I hit the gas pedal and accelerate through the gears.
  • Kcflyer libs have been subsidizing college for decades. The predictable result is soaring cost of college and dramatic increases in useless degrees. Their solution? More subsidies of course. EV policy will follow the same failed logic. Because it's not like it's their money. Not saying the republicans are any better, they talk a good game but spend like drunken sailors to buy votes just like the libs. The sole function of the U.S. government is to take money from people who earn it and give it away to people who didn't.
  • CecilSaxon Sounds about as smart as VW's "SoundAktor"